Microsoft's mess doesn't mean Apple can be complacent

Written by David Tebbutt, MacUser 10/90 item 02 - scanned

Ah hah. It did not take long for the cracks in Windows 3.0 to start to appear, did it? Increasing numbers of people trying to use it are irritated by the limitations of Microsoft's new program.

And, let us be clear about this, it is only an application program sitting on top of MS-DOS to make the PC look more like a Mac, with windows and pull-down menus. It is not, by any stretch of the imagination, an operating system in its own right.

I could not help noticing the gleeful look on the face of Apple's marketing director, John Leftwich, the other day when we were both listening to a Windows user bemoaning his fate. The chap was complaining that most of the applications were still MS-DOS, the gimmicky games and desk accessories were very nice, but where was the power such a new system was supposed to give you?

He also wanted to know why Windows 3.0 gobbles a huge amount of disk space (well 3M or 4M) and cannot sensibly run on a 1M 80286 computer, the most commonly shipped machine.

He realised that, to make proper use of the new interface, he would have to throw out his present machine and buy a new one. All over the world, users are soon going to wake up to the fact that their heads have been turned by a handsome face, whose looks are only skin deep.

Unless this is a very clever game by Microsoft, then the company has probably blown it. Perhaps its real motive is to get users to buy heftier machines and then realise that they may as well move straight to Microsoft's grown-up operating system OS/2. A sort of sprat to catch a mackerel.

Or, even more sinister, perhaps Microsoft is in cahoots with computer makers to get them more hardware business. The truth is more likely to be that Microsoft knew that a superficially cheap GUI was what was needed to beat off Apple and the various graphical versions of Unix. It might have been a smart business decision in the short term, but Microsoft will not have endeared itself to its users.

Huge numbers of PC users are either going to stay with MS-DOS or take the opportunity to consider the alternatives. If you were suddenly faced with the prospect of buying a new machine with more memory, disk capacity and an environment which obsoletes all your programs, wouldn't you think of looking around?

And what choices face the user who feels forced into upgrading by the current craze for GUIs? Or more importantly, what choice does the large corporate have when faced with a decision to upgrade hundreds, maybe thousands of machines?

Any sensible person would have to consider the Mac - at least Apple has never really started messing around with its user interface, despite significant improvements to the underlying function of its operating system.

NeXT might be worth a look for brave Steve Jobs fans who would like a usable version of UNIX. Of course, they might consider one of the many other flavours of UNIX, providing it is hiding behind something like x.desktop. Or they might take a peek at OS/2, the operating system which promises great things but whose application developers all moved, lemming like, to Windows 3.0.

If you have any PC-using friends planning to choose Windows, I would tell them it will cost a lot unless they already have a beefy PC. Advise them to stick with what they have or take a long hard look at where their computing is taking them. You might even mention that the Mac might be a minority machine but, gee, it sure is easy to use.

If my view is right, then after the initial high volume shipments of Windows 3.0, Microsoft's bandwagon is going to come to a grinding halt. Evaluators in companies up and down the country will balk at replacing one set of computers with another, more expensive set, just so they can run some flashy software which really does not add that much to the usefulness of the machine.

Given that the choices are UNIX, OS/2 or Mac, I cannot help feeling that Microsoft has played right into Apple's hands. Instead of drawing everyone away from Apple, it may end up having just the opposite effect. Apple could be in for a sales boom, just at the time it was beginning to think that it had to fight harder for its business.

The thing that distresses me most about this whole scenario is that, instead of acknowledging Microsoft's mistakes, Apple might think that it had done something right.

And the last thing we need from Apple right now is complacency.